Blogs > From The Bleacher Seats

A roundup of news on sporting events, people and places in Southeast Michigan by columnist Jim Evans.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Happy birthday, champ

Muhammad Ali leans away from a Joe Frazier left in one of the three historic fights the two heavyweights engaged in.  Ali turned 70 earlier this month.

I saw Muhammad Ali fight plenty of times.
It was always on television, though. I saw him go more than once with Joe Frazier; watched as he leaned against the loose ropes in Zaire against George Foreman; and the bloody pummeling of George Chuvalo that left Howard Cosell so aghast
I watched his interviews mostly with Cosell when the words came out quicker than that left jab of his and left me wondering if Keats or Frost had ever considered pugilism.
It was always on the RCA television, though, with the screen hardly 13 inches across and the already fuzzy picture just one loose connection of the rabbit ears away from disappearing into oblivion.
Years later, I would spot Ali in person ringside at some of the local fights. He’d usually be there to see Tommy Hearns or Hilmer Kenty or someone else in the Kronk stable.
Still, I had never really met Ali until years later, at his place in Berrien Springs. I was there with Stuart Kirschenbaum, the former boxing commissioner in the state.
The former champ’s speech was halting and tip toeing toward incomprehensible. He was paying a severe price for the job description he had embraced for years.
Still, his wit remained sharp. At one point, Ali climbed into the ring and beckoned Kirschenbaum to join him. I started to laugh and he shot me a stern look. He threatened to kick my ass and then smiled playfully.
Ali celebrated his 70th birthday on January 17. A gala celebration will be held at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas next month.
I was thinking about the champ just the other day. I was putting away Christmas decorations, and there on a shelf in the basement was an autographed boxing glove signed by Ali.
It is the only autograph I’ve ever gotten. In a profession that has over the years brought me in contact with some of the greatest in their particular line of work like Michael Jordan, Barry Sanders, Jack Nicklaus, Al Kaline, and Steve Yzerman, I have never even considered asking for a signature.
That’s because I write about sports, but I do not fawn over sports figures. A couple of quick visits to a professional locker room smacks the stardust from your eyes. Some of the guys are pleasant. Some are ornery. Some are thoughtful and there are others who should greet the next thought that comes into their heads like it is a stranger because it is.
Basically, professional athletes are like you and I only much, much richer.
But Muhammad Ali was more than an athlete. He was an icon who helped define a turbulent era in this country. He was probably the world’s most recognizable athlete and in some corners of the world, might still be.
Cassius Clay was on his birth certificate, but Ali changed his name after joining the Nation of Islam in 1964. In 1967, three years after he had won the world heavyweight championship, he refused to be drafted into the military, stating “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong… No Viet Cong ever called me nigger.”
He would eventually be arrested and found guilty of draft evasion; he was stripped of his world championship and his boxing license was suspended. While Ali was never imprisoned, he did not fight again for nearly four years.
Love him or hate him, Ali transcended sports. He captivated people. He clobbered people. People adored him. Others abhorred him. He made historic stands both inside and outside of the ring.
Some of those cost him plenty. Happy birthday, champ. Have fun in Vegas. Meeting you was a signature moment in my life.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Veggie Tale: Prince Fielder does not eat meat

Prince Fielder is a vegan.
I swear on a stack of tofu that is true.
That means he does not eat animal products. No meat. No dairy. No beef jerky. No pig snouts or tails.
So much for my preconceived notion of vegans and what they look like.
I picture someone who is Iggy Pop thin. I picture a vegan munching on sprouts and berries at the Inn Season restaurant in Royal Oak.
I don't picture Prince Fielder.
I mean, Prince is a big guy. He's a guy who probably could afford to lose a few pounds. Don't get me wrong; he's a fantastic baseball player. The guy can club a ball like few others. He is an outstanding addition for the Tigers.
But a vegan?
That is a whole lot of vegetables. What is he eating; an acre of corn a week? A bushel of oats per sitting?
All right, enough of those corny jokes. We are all very glad you’re with the Tigers, Prince.
Let’s go grab a Boca Burger sometime.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Help Scotty Norton take down brain cancer

A total of nearly 20 hours on the operating table.
Former wrestler Scotty Norton paid the surgeons two visits as they worked furiously to remove much of a softball-sized tumor from his brain.
As if that ordeal was not enough, six weeks of radiation followed.
“For a period of time, Scotty had been suffering from bad migraines and was feeling pretty tired all of the time,” said his brother, Brian Norton. “He could not figure out what was going on.”
It was finally determined that he had cancer.
“Scotty is back to running. While he’s only doing a mile right now, just running is amazing in itself,” said Brian.
The J Robinson Intensive Wrestling Camp.
While hardly a surgical procedure, the grueling experience certainly helped prepare Scotty Norton for dealing with the cancer he now confronts.
“The camp was hell,” said Brian Norton, laughing.
Scotty is one of Gwen and Robert Norton’s seven kids. The family roster is made up of Bob, who is 36; Jerry, 34; Brian, 33; Doug, 31; Scotty, who turned 30 on January 18; Bonnie, 28; and Kevin, who is 24.
Nearly all of the boys attended the camp run by Coach Robinson at the University of Minnesota. They would spend nearly the entire month of July on the college campus in Minneapolis. Don’t get the wrong idea; arts and crafts and S’mores were not part of the core curriculum.
“Every morning, you would get up and it would either be an intensive run or an intense session in the weight room,” said Brian Norton. “And that was just the start of the day.”
If it was a running morning, that meant going out to the 400 meter oval. The campers would arrive about the same time that roosters were just waking up and doing pilates. They’d jump rope 1,000 times and then run four laps. Then they’d jump rope 800 times and do three laps. You get the idea. It was not exactly a warm up jog around the neighborhood.
It was referred to as the John-O Run, because once the workout was thankfully finished, everybody would be sprinting to the bathroom to, most likely vomit.
When it was time to wrestle, that took place on 50 yards worth of mats spread across the indoor football field.
Participants were divided into four weight categories. At the end of the month, only four black hats were given out. Scotty, who probably weighed 110 pounds with five pounds of sand in his shoes, earned one of them.
“They went to the most insanely dedicated wrestler in each group. Scotty had an insatiable desire to be the best. He always wanted to win and do well. He pushed himself hard, harder than almost anyone else. That was his mindset,” said Brian.
Scotty remembers the camp well.
“The thing with camp is that you think you have a certain limit and they’ll push you way beyond that limit,” said Scotty. “You go beyond what you think you can do. That experience has helped me tremendously.”
It was mid August when he found out about the cancer.
“There have been a lot of prayers and faith,” said Scotty. “Hands down, it’s my faith in God that has helped me through this. There is no doubt it is Him who has helped me. There have been some difficult times, especially during some of the quiet moments at home, but I have gone through some pretty difficult moments in wrestling, and I learned never to give up.”
Scotty Norton was class president at Romeo High School. He had a 4.0 grade point average. He went on to earn advanced degrees at Brigham Young University.
When it was time to be wheeled into the operating room, Scotty had wanted to wear his black “I Did It” T-shirt from the J Robinson Intensive Wrestling Camp. The medical staff laughed, but made him take it off. Hospital gowns are the strict dress code in their venue.
Scotty Norton has not stripped himself from that attitude that earned him so much success both on and off the wrestling mat. He was a state champion at Romeo High School. The family moved from Richmond to Romeo when he was in high school.
Bob and Jerry wrestled at Richmond. Brian wrestled at Richmond for three years, and then transferred to Romeo where he became a state champion.
While living on a small farm in Richmond, the boys converted a bedroom into a wrestling room. While others might have asked for video games or something for Christmas, they put in a request to Santa for a wrestling mat or two.
“My mom was sick of us breaking furniture,” said Scotty, laughing.
Scotty lives in Arizona now. He is married to Emily, and they have two young sons, Logan and Gavin.
On the “Scott Norton - Conquering Brain Cancer” Facebook page, he writes: “I love being a dad to my two energetic, awesome little boys (ages 4 and 2). I love my wife, Emily, like crazy. We live in a great neighborhood in Gilbert, Arizona. I have been a high school health/pe teacher, wrestling coach, realtor, house flipper, and currently I work as a health and wellness coach.
I get to coach employees of Pepsico to eat healthy, exercise, quit smoking, lose weight, reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, etc. I really enjoy it. I plan to return to school soon to become a physician assistant and bridge the gap between our current health care system and preventative health. I love sports, fitness, hanging out with my family.”
On Wednesday, Jan. 25, there will be a Romeo vs. Ford Alumni Dual Wrestling Meet. It’s a Support Scotty event designed to “crossface cancer” and gets underway at 5 p.m. Wristbands and T-shirts will be available for purchase. Following the meet, people are encouraged to go to The Office Pub & Cookery for a social fundraiser. The Office Pub will donate 20 percent of everyone’s bills to help Scotty and his family.
On Thursday, February 9, a benefit concert at the Crofoot in Pontiac has been planned by Scotty’s brother, Kevin. The admission is $8 and includes bands Porygon Mind Fortress, Wilson, Apache and Jacques Rocque.
Money raised from all benefits will help defray the medical costs of Scotty’s ongoing treatment.

For more information, visit

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Great Scot, what's wrong with Donald Trump?

I’m an ugly American.
In the literal sense. Overweight. Thinning hair.  Crooked teeth. Not something you’d ever see on the cover of Esquire.
But Donald Trump is an ugly American in the universal sense.
Here we go, a tale that will make every rational American cringe: The story out of Scotland is that the American billionaire held his breath, stomped his feet, turned blue and vowed to abandon his $1.2 billion luxury Scottish golf resort if the government allowed a proposed wind farm to be built nearby.
Trump, the man with the cotton candy hair, believes that if plans for 11 turbines in northeastern Scotland’s Aberdeen Bay go ahead, it would spoil the views from his resort, the Trump International Golf Links, which is less than two miles away.
Trump told Scottish newspaper The Press and Journal he would not spend “another penny” on the resort until he was certain the offshore project would be built elsewhere.
Forget the energy needs of the Scottish people. Forget the fact that it’s clean, renewable energy, too. Holy Scrooge McDuck, do not spoil the Trumpster’s view with something so trite.
I am embarrassed for America. I am going to send a note of apology to the Scottish people. Donald Trump is an ugly American in the universal sense. Once that wind hits the billionaire’s hair just so, in the literal sense, too.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Was that God Tebowing?

I have conversations with God.
All right, they are more like monologues.
Usually they occur when I am driving home from work early in the morning. There’s not a whole lot of traffic and it’s just me, Chef Chris and the Rumpshakers or the Muggs or whatever CD I happen to be listening to, and God.
I ask Him how He is doing. I fill him in on family matters. I tell Him to say hello to his Son. I make sure I let him know I am available if He needs help.
Often, I say I look forward to meeting Him. Not too soon, mind you. I am speaking future tense.
So I am a little taken aback by this ridicule toward Tim Tebow, the evangelical Denver Broncos quarterback.
The kid prays, so what? He believes in God, so what?
Still, I shook my head when I saw the results of a recent poll. According to a telephone survey conducted by the website Poll Position and written about by, 43.3 percent of people believe Tebow's accomplishments on the field can be attributed to divine intervention.
The poll surveyed 1,056 people, and of the 756 who said they were familiar with Tebow, roughly 327 of them said they believe God plays a role in the second-year NFL quarterback's success.
The poll also found that women were more likely than men to believe that God is a Broncos fan, with 46.4 percent of female respondents saying yes, as opposed to 40.6 percent of men.
When it comes to party affiliation, 54.2 percent of Republicans said they believe God plays a role in Tebow's success, as opposed to 38.2 percent of Democrats and 35.1 percent of independents.
And among ethnic groups, Latino respondents proved to be the biggest believers, with a whopping 81.3 percent saying they believe God helps Tebow and the Broncos succeed. 59.5 percent of black respondents and 38.3 percent of white respondents also said yes.
Now I am a person of faith. I go to church on Sundays. I sing the hymns and listen to the sermons and put whatever I can into the collection plate.
Toward the end of every Sunday service, there are more prayers. A large part of those are taken up by folks on the church’s prayer list.
The prayers typically are for those who are dealing with personal loss or travails. Those who are mourning the death of a loved one; those who are hospitalized; those who are battling cancer or other serious diseases; shut-ins and others in assisted living; those in the armed forces, etc., etc., etc.
Never once have I heard the name Tim Tebow. Or, for that matter, Nick Lidstrom, Matthew Stafford, Miguel Cabrera or Tayshaun Prince.
I guess we just figure that God has more important things to attend to than the Denver Broncos, the Red Wings, the Lions, Tigers and Pistons.
I do not imagine there was any divine presence when Tebow fired the pass to Demaryius Thomas that covered 80 yards and ended the first-round playoff game with an overtime win against the Steelers.
The God I’m talking to in my ’97 subcompact with the right windshield wiper that doesn’t operate and the driver’s side window that does not roll down and the Nike shoe box that serves as a glove box has more important things to do.
There are wars ravaging the Middle East. There is simmering hatred all over the world. There is starvation in Africa and unemployment in America. There are fractured economies in Europe and human rights abuses in large chunks of Asia.
There is homicide. There is suicide. There is depression. There is no shortage of misery for God to handle.
Then again, I do not blame Him if wants to take some time off and turn on the 65-inch Panasonic to take in some football.
He might even have tuned in when the Broncos visited Foxborough to take on Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
Who won that game? It certainly was not the Broncos. Either way, I could not imagine God putting any money down in Vegas on Denver.
Is that God Tebowing? That is what the poll seems to say.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

That doggone Baxter

I need some dog training tips.
We rescued Baxter from a shelter more than a year ago. The good folks at the shelter had found him  unattended in a backyard in Pontiac.
Baxter is a very affectionate, loveable guy, an advertised mix of a chocolate Lab and a Weimaraner.
That was the end of the advertisement.
Nobody told us that Baxter was so food-driven that he would devour anything and everything short of a full-grown Brontosaurus or an ill-tempered Killer Whale. Or that because of his height, he would be able to put his front paws on the top of every counter and look around to assess what that day’s smorgasbord would be.
That varied menu over the past year has included an entire bag of chocolate chips, about two pounds of Christmas cookie dough, a loaf of bread, and, of course, everything else residing in the food chain that doesn’t fight back with incisors bared.
A quick story: When we went on vacation this past summer, we boarded Baxter with a woman in the neighborhood for a week. Seven days later, I had barely pulled into her driveway when she came running out of the house with Baxter in tow. He was licking his chops contentedly.
“He’s just eaten our dinner!” she exclaimed. “I had a pizza on the counter and he just devoured it. I also had a whole bowl of pasta salad that he ate!”
Needless to say, Baxter is not allowed to heed the Welcome Mat at her front door any longer.
Baxter does not just jump on counters. He also jumps on people. All who come through our door are  soon adorned with his paw prints.
Because of his boundless joy, he shares his enthusiasm for life with all. The trouble is, at 55 pounds and about 45 miles per hour, it can be like being getting greeted by Herbie the Love Bug. Only Volkswagens do not pack quite as big a punch.
We’ve tried everything; from firm verbal commands to gently swatting his fanny to using this so-called ultrasonic device that allegedly only animals can hear. Well, we cannot hear it and Baxter does not seem to hear it, either. He just keeps jumping, wagging his tail, and saying hello.
Do you know a dog trainer? Do you know a lion tamer? Please let me know ASAP. Or call me on the phone. I can be reached at 9-1-1.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Happy New Year!

The circle of life.
It’s not just something from the Disney flick, The Lion King.
Animation takes on reality, but that is still a tough concept for a youngster to grasp.
Kyle’s grandpa died the morning of December 24th. Norm had suffered a serious heart attack while golfing in Arizona, and then a stroke during a catheterization procedure.
Norm was transferred to Sinai in Detroit. Complications ensued and when Kim and I came home from the hospital, we had to tell Kyle and his sister, Brittany, the sad news.
“No, no!” said Kyle, as he tore through the gifts under the tree. “I have to give Grandpa the golf balls I bought him for Christmas.”
Sobbing, he grabbed the half-dozen Titleists he had carefully wrapped and clutched them tightly.
It was heart-wrenching.

The circle of life.
It is not just King Mufasa, Simba and Uncle Scar.
The doctor looked at my wife, Kim, and I solemnly.
A pre-natal ultrasound indicated the distinct possibility that our fourth child could have birth defects. There were factors including an increase in the skin behind the neck which can be an indicator for Down syndrome.
An amniocentesis was offered, but we decided against it. The baby was ours and would be loved regardless.
Believe me, we shed plenty of tears. We spent a lot of time in fervent prayer.
Jordan arrived in perfect condition.

The circle of life.
It is not just Rafiki, Timon and Pumbaa.
There was grandpa in the hospital bed in the sun room.
Jordan, who is 20 now, was just three years old. He could barely see over the railing on the bed, so I hefted him up and he settled in with grandpa.
My dad had been stricken with colorectal cancer five years earlier. He had some pretty good years subsequent to that, but the fight was nearing an end. The doctors said there wasn’t anything more they could do.
Dad came home under hospice care and about shortly before Christmas, he took his last breath.
Only one night earlier, we had watched Chevy Chase’s “Christmas Vacation” and everyone had a good laugh. The search for a perfect Christmas tree was one we all could relate to.
As kids, we had embarked on that search annually. Somehow, the trees never passed mom’s rigorous inspections.

The circle of life
It’s not just music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice.
Jose Mae was born in September.
She is our first grandchild. She is as cute as a Cabbage Patch Kid. A full head of dark hair. Eyes that match the hair. More expressions than a Picasso painting. Lately, she has begun to verbalize. She is certainly no wallflower.
She’s a gift from God and that means no other presents are needed. No new sweater vests. No movie passes. No sweat socks or thermal underwear. Not even the obligatory Kid Rock CD.
I miss Norm. I miss my dad. But I love Jordan and all of our kids. I love Josie Mae, our first grandchild.
The circle of life continues. Have a very prosperous 2012 everybody.